Opening in the midst of a global pandemic is never part of any museum’s redevelopment plan. Originally due to welcome the public in March, the Kyoto City Kyocera Museum of Art in Japan has had to make some unexpected changes to its schedule, in response to the coronavirus outbreak that has led to the shutdown of institutions across the world. Restrictions are in place across Japan to prevent the spread of the virus, but a full lockdown has not been declared as of yet.
All being well, the museum hopes to open its doors this month to carefully monitored crowds following a three-year renewal project. The institution is Japan’s oldest public art museum and houses a comprehensive permanent collection of art, including Japanese-style Nihonga and western-style paintings, sculpture, crafts, calligraphy and prints. Works by Kyoto artists form the core of a collection that consists of about 3,600 pieces.
Previously known as the Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art, the institution has been rechristened after signing a 50-year contract with the electronics company Kyocera Corporation, which funded the redevelopment. The renewal project has also benefited from some joined-up thinking, after one of the lead architects involved in the design, Aoki Jun, was named director of the museum midway through construction.
The renovation has enabled the museum to significantly expand its remit. A 1,000 sq m gallery, the Higashiyama Cube, has been created next to the original 1930s building. The new space is equipped with facilities for displaying contemporary art and a five-metre-high ceiling, enabling the venue to show works from the current art scene, such as animation, fashion, architecture, and design. It also features a roof-top cafe. In the original building, two formerly disused courtyards have been opened to the public, and a “glass ribbon” has been built around the exterior to house the museum’s shop and cafe.
The renovation has created a public plaza, Kyocera Square, where people can enjoy public performances and events – something that will be much needed once the current crisis has passed. Museums Journal spoke to a museum spokesman to find out more.
How is the coronavirus pandemic affecting your opening plans?
The previews for invitees will take place as scheduled, but under several restrictions. We also rescheduled the date of the museum’s opening to the public from 21 March to 4 April. To make visitors feel safe and reassured, we have decided to take the following precautions once open: intensive disinfection of the venue with alcohol; regular use of face masks by staff; taking visitors’ temperatures; requesting voluntary restraint for those who are not feeling well; controlling the number of visitors by accepting advance reservations only; and building a system enabling us to identify a person who has had close contact with a virus carrier.
Why was it necessary to redevelop the museum?
The old, decrepit museum building needed a drastic update of its facilities as an exhibition venue. Although we have many art universities and contemporary artists based in Kyoto, the previous building was not capable of holding a contemporary art show. So, in an attempt to meet various forms of artistic expression nowadays, a new wing centered on contemporary art has been added.
We wanted to make every effort to retain the visage of the main building, which has been a familiar sight to citizens for many years, but also increase public spaces, such as a cafe and museum shops.
Can you tell us more about the architecture of the renovation?
Though architecture itself does not move or change, the way people view and experience architecture does change with time. We have sought continuity with the existing appearance, while adding a new layer to it. The idea is to allow a new visage to emerge while preserving the underlying architecture. We’ve returned the south courtyard to its original use and covered the north courtyard with a glass roof, making it an indoor space. In this way, we have tried to excavate some of the museum’s possibilities that had been hidden for a while. We’ve tried to keep a balance between eliminated and retained elements, such as the characteristic brick tiles of the main building and the large volume of the new building. By creating contrasts in this way between old and new, we have tried to achieve something more subtle and totally different from straightforward repair.
What is the biggest change that has been made to display and interpretation?
We’ve created a permanent exhibition of the collections that shows how art and craft developed in Kyoto from the modern period onwards. We’ve reinforced self-produced exhibitions and we’re exhibiting various genres of contemporary art, extending from fine art and manga to fashion and architecture, in the new building. To make the museum more open to overseas visitors, our captions and displays will be multilingual. We also aim to develop interactive activities by enhancing educational programmes and creating an environment where museum staff and audiences can learn from each other.
What do you think will excite visitors most as they walk around the galleries?
The architecture, which seamlessly fuses old and new, is photogenic from any angle, while the Japanese garden overlooking the lobby of the new annex is majestic. Visitors should enjoy dropping by public spaces such as the cafe and shop.
- Cost ¥5bn (£38.2m)
- Architects Aoki Jun and Nishizawa Tezzo
- Main funder Kyocera Corporation
- Admission Kyoto City residents ¥520 (£3.94); non-residents: ¥730 (£5.53); students and children: free